Monday, November 7, 2011

It's the "uh-oh" season for weight gain

By Steve Jacob

Weight gain seems to sneak up on people during the holiday season. This leads to an inevitable New Year's resolution to shed weight too quickly, leading to disappointment and self-recrimination.

Anyone who struggles to maintain an ideal weight understands the uphill battle. Only about 1 in 6 overweight Americans lose weight and keep it off. Women are better at it than men. However, being married makes it more difficult to keep an ideal for both sexes.

A review of 31 long-term studies involving tens of thousands of dieters offers grim news. More than 80 percent of dieters gain all of the lost weight back within two years, and very few kept it off for five years.

One of the biggest barriers to weight loss is striving for an unrealistic body weight. The scientific community believes diets and medications realistically cannot produce more than a 10 percent weight loss. Some of the most respected health organizations – the Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – recommend that health-care providers ask patients to lose no more than that amount.

Linda Bacon, a professor of nutrition at City College of San Francisco and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, runs a program to teach overweight people about healthy eating habits and the merits of physical activity.

Bacon tracked 78 obese women aged 30 to 45 for two years. Half the group participated in her program and the other half were in a traditional weight-loss program. At the end, both groups essentially weighed the same. But the group in Bacon’s program lowered cholesterol and blood-pressure levels and had higher self-esteem.

Bacon contends that the body will do what it is supposed to do if people learn to enjoy physical activity and to stop eating when they are full. That may be the most sensible weight-control strategy during, and after, the holidays.

Steve Jacob writes about health for Texas newspapers and magazines. This is excerpted from his forthcoming book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs are Taking Us.

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